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Planning Your New Home

Most people want to start right in with the design of the home itself.
Success in owner contracting is almost always a function of the amount and detail of the planning that went into the project. Most people want to start right in with the design of the home itself. But wait! Do yourself a favor.
Do a little planning first.

Basic Decisions

These are sort of basic questions you should start to tie down early. They really don't address style or design. When planning your new home, they just establish the parameters (limits) within which the design can take place.

Start with defining your overall goal in building this home. What are you interested in accomplishing - saving money, or getting all the home you can afford? Are you building a home for yourself, or is this a home you will sell or rent? Do you want to be an owner builder . . . the general contractor?

Are you "outdoors people?" Will you want patios, decks, gardens, a pool? Do you enjoy yard work, flowers, etc.? Do you like to entertain? What size groups?

Is your family young and growing, or are you an "empty nester?" How many bedrooms do you need? How many do you want?

Do you want the bedrooms together or would you like the master suite in a separate area - called a "split" plan? Do you like the concept of a great room?

Or do you prefer a separate den or family room? Do you want a formal dining room or a big eat-in kitchen?

Lot Related Considerations

If you already own a lot, the size, shape, and slope of the lot will have to be taken into consideration. Do you have room for a home that is 80 feet wide? Perhaps only a two story home will work They can be narrower, since you're "stacking" the space.

Will a home that is deeper than it is wide work better? Will a basement work with this lot? Some people design a home and then find a lot that will work with the home. Others buy a lot, and then design a home to fit it.

How will the home sit on the lot? Are there opportunities for views? If so, how will you take advantage of them . . .decks, windows, etc.? What rooms should be oriented towards the views?

Overall Design
When planning your new home, the overall design is a no-brainer! Do you want a ranch design? A two story? A split level? You may not have thought about it, but a two story home is less expensive and more energy efficient than a ranch style.

It is less expensive because you have a smaller foundation and roof for the same amount of living space. It is more energy efficient because there is less roof area through which conditioned air can escape.

About The Home Itself

You probably have some ideas about the home you are wanting to build already firmly fixed in your mind. Other areas you will need to consider have not even been considered. Here are a few to get you started.

Will it be square, rectangular, L or H-shaped? How about a round house? Or will it be irregular? Here are some considerations.

Each corner makes the roof design more complicated . . . hence more expensive. As far as energy efficiency is concerned, the most efficient shape (using straight walls) is the square.

A square will enclose the greatest area with the least outside wall exposed. Unless you're a masochist, forget the round home. It is expensive, time consuming, and frustrating to make common building materials into curved surfaces.
Foundation and Floor System
What kind do you prefer - concrete slab or crawl space with floor joists? A discussion of the difference is presented later in this lesson. What about a basement?

Energy Efficiency
There are many, many things that can be done to conserve energy. Energy design is said to include active and passive elements.An active element may be a solar water heater. A passive feature may be the design of the roof overhang, which will allow the winter's warming rays, but exclude the summer sun.

Some energy considerations relate to the orientation of the home on the lot. Others concern materials, systems, and design. All of the things done to increase energy efficiency fall into one of three categories:

1. Control heat gain and heat loss - caulking, sealing, insulation, vapor barriers, window and door design, etc.
2. Make use of free energy - solar, hydroelectric, thermal, etc.
3. Make the best use of purchased energy - heat pumps, high efficiency appliances, etc.

Looking For Ideas

Where To Look
There are many places to look for ideas as to how you want your new home to look and what you want it to include. Plan books in the homes magazines, are full of ideas. You can also spend some time "in the field" looking at existing homes in your area. Not only can you visit new home sites, but also open houses for used homes that are on the market. Many cities have annual tours of "designer" homes where you can get a wealth of ideas.

Accumulating Your Ideas
You may develop a scrapbook or file folder of ideas you have seen that appeal to you. This will be a big help to your architect or residential designer, when it is time to actually do the drawings. These ideas may be in the form of pictures you have torn from magazines, photos you have taken, or sketches you have done.

If you are visiting a new home you particularly like, you may be able to get a floor plan sheet. If not, you can make a sketch of the plan while you are there. Just step off the rooms, figuring about three feet to the average stride. This will give you approximate dimensions which will be close enough to recreate the plan later. Make it a habit to carry a camera and a note pad when you go house shopping.

These are just a few ideas on how to proceed with the planning of your new home. Other areas you'll want to pay some attention to are how much of the actual work you will plan to do, who will oversee (superintend) the construction, and of course how you will pay for the project!